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Priebus lowers VP debate expectations, describes Biden as ‘gifted orator’

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus expressed optimism that Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) would do well in Thursday night’s vice presidential debate, but sought to downplay expectations, describing Vice President Joe Biden as a “gifted orator.”

“Most people understand that Joe Biden has been debating for a long time,” said Priebus on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday. 

Priebus said that while Biden had been the source of numerous gaffes on the campaign trail, Republicans should be cautious. “Joe Biden has of late put his foot in his mouth in very public ways, I mean he said that the middle class was crushed under the policies of Obama and Biden and he’s said some things that were problematic,” said Priebus. 

“Paul is going to do a great job, but also I think it’s very important that people understand that, people realize that Joe Biden is a gifted orator, is very good at rhetoric, is very relatable,” he added.

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Republicans have frequently seized on Biden’s campaign trail remarks, most recently when he said that the middle class had been “buried” for the last four years, using that remark to hit the administration on its economic policies. But the Obama campaign has shown no signs of holding the vice president back, deploying him regularly to key swing states to rally voters.

Priebus on Sunday also dismissed suggestions that the debate between vice presidential candidates would take a back seat to the three debates between Mitt Romney and President Obama, and said he expected voters to watch the running mates’ face-off as closely. 

“People enjoy these debates, I would expect a lot of people to be watching,” he said.

Democrats hope that Biden can deliver a strong performance in Thursday’s debate at Centre College, Ky. After polls showed voters believed GOP challenger Romney did better than Obama in the first presidential debate last Wednesday. Romney and Obama will meet next on Oct. 16, in Hempstead, N.Y., for their second debate.

Asked about a CNN poll taken last week which shows that most voters believe Ryan will win his debate, Priebus said that while he expected the Wisconsin lawmaker to build on Romney’s momentum, both campaigns were under pressure to ramp up their efforts with 30 days before election day.

“We had a good week last week, there’s no doubt about it. We have to have a good week this week and the week after, so we have to take things one day at a time,” he said.

The CNN poll found 55 percent saying Ryan would win the debate, with 39 percent picking Biden.

The RNC chairman also downplayed Friday’s jobs report which showed the unemployment rate dropping to 7.8 percent and argued that the economic recovery was still weak.

“If you’re getting blown out in a football game but you’re still scoring field goals once a quarter, you can’t point to the 3 points every quarter and say we’re at least scoring some points. You are still getting clobbered, and the fact of the matter is that the president and Joe Biden are getting clobbered on the polices they put in to place,” said Priebus.

“Last week you saw the difference: an unfiltered Mitt Romney, an unfiltered Barack Obama,” he said of the debate. “You saw inspiration, heart, preparedness from Mitt Romney and you saw a president that came in unprepared and uninspiring.”

“You know what, maybe Clint Eastwood was right,” said Priebus.

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